You have made the decision to breastfeed your baby - great news! While this may not be what you want to hear, it is important to understand that breastfeeding is not always easy right out of the gate. During the first few weeks of breastfeeding, there are a number of not-so-positive things that you might experience. It is important, however, that you do not let these things hinder your ability or desire to breastfeed your new baby. The first few weeks are by far the hardest, so if you can make it through them, your breastfeeding journey will hopefully get nothing but better! Read on to get an in-depth look at the first few weeks of breastfeeding!
What to Expect during Your First Few Weeks of Breastfeeding
While every baby is different, there are some commonalities when it comes to the first weeks. This section will address the general experiences of breastfeeding mothers, while the next section takes a deeper look at specific issues that may arise.
Pain at Initial Latch
Whether or not your baby has trouble latching, you will most likely experience a degree of pain as your baby is latching on. Remember, nipples are sensitive parts of our bodies so they need time to adjust to this new action. As painful as it can be, try not to let it dissuade you from breastfeeding your baby. The pain will go away as your body continues to adjust.
As your baby begins to suck on your breast, your body releases the hormone oxytocin, which causes your uterus to contract. These contractions work to shrink your uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size, but they can come at a painful price. Since the contractions can cause intense cramps while breastfeeding, it is easy to begin to associate your nursing sessions with more pain. Just remember, these will go away.
When just getting started with breastfeeding, you may notice that you need more hands to juggle all that is going on in your lap. You may think you just need one hand to hold your baby and one hand to support the breast, but inevitably you will end up struggling through a few nursing sessions as you awkwardly try to balance your baby, your breast, a burp cloth, a water bottle for your intense thirst, and the milk spraying out of your nipple!
Long Nursing Sessions
As you are getting started with nursing, try not to rush through a nursing session. It is going to take a lot more time in the first few weeks than it will as you and your baby get more comfortable. You may feel like you are nursing your baby almost constantly, and this is normal and necessary for establishing your milk supply.
Frequent Nursing Sessions
Within the first few weeks, your baby will grow a lot! All of this growth has to be supported by proper nutrition, so you may find yourself nursing around the clock. While you will want to nurse your baby every two to three hours, do not be afraid to listen to your baby's hunger cues and nurse as often as they need. Contrary to popular belief, nursing more frequently does not lead to poor milk supply.
Leaking and Engorgement
Just as you and your baby are trying to figure out this whole breastfeeding thing, your body is also trying to fulfill its responsibility in making sure you have enough milk. With milk production, you may become very engorged as your breasts continue to fill up. In order to relieve some of this pressure, milk will start to leak out at all times of the day and night. Nursing pads, like Lansinoh's Disposable Nursing Pads, can help prevent milk from soaking through your clothes. For a reusable version, try TL Care's 100% Organic Cotton Nursing Pads.
Baby Falling Asleep
Newborn babies are sleepy babies. Infants need more than sixteen hours of sleep a day, and while they need to eat, their sleepiness can make it very difficult to stay awake for an entire nursing session. Do not be surprised if you have to continually wake your baby up to continue nursing.
Aside from the above mentioned difficulties, there are a few potential pitfalls that you might experience. Being aware of these from the beginning can help you better prepare if something does occur.
A successful latch is when your baby has both the areola and nipple in his mouth. Do not let your baby just suck on your nipple. It is important that they have a wide mouth and take in the areola, as well. If your baby does not latch on correctly, do not try to pull them off - ouch! Free your nipple by placing your finger in the corner of his mouth and gently releasing suction. In order to encourage a successful latch, help guide your baby to the breast chin first and with a wide, open mouth. As soon as the bottom jaw makes contact with the breast, gently bring the top jaw to the upper areola area. If your baby is continuing to have trouble latching on properly, you may want to talk to your pediatrician about tongue tie, a condition that can prevent a baby from correctly latching on to the breast to nurse.
If you have flat or inverted nipples, you may think breastfeeding is not possible. The truth is, however, that this is certainly not a deal breaker. Make sure your baby has a wide mouth latch to get around the nipple. Breastfeeding can help to "suck out" the inverted nipple, but a nipple shield like Medela's Contact Nipple Shield can also be helpful. While it is painful, try not to let this dissuade you from breastfeeding.
Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast that can make a breastfeeding mother feel very sick. The inflammation can be due to an infection, engorgement, or blocked milk ducts. While it may be very painful, do not stop nursing your baby if you have mastitis. Allow your baby to empty the breast and keep the milk flowing. Try using warm compresses to ease some of the pain.
Sore and Cracked Nipples
While sore breasts in the first few weeks of breastfeeding are a common complaint, cracked and/or bleeding nipples can make nursing even more painful and difficult. Sore and cracked nipples are usually caused by an incorrect latch and can be helped by readjusting the baby's position on the breast. If your nipples are too sore to nurse, try pumping for a little while to relieve some of the pain. Try using gel pads on the nipples in between feedings. Philips AVENT Thermal Gel Pads can be heated or frozen for either warm or cool comfort. Some women also find relief through nipple creams, like Motherlove Nipple Cream. If the condition does not improve, call a lactation consultant to help evaluate your technique.
Tips For Success:
Speak With a Lactation Consultant
These days, most hospitals have lactation consultants on staff to help answer any questions you have about breastfeeding. If you are not sure how to contact a consultant, talk to your OB or your baby's pediatrician about finding someone who can help you.
Enlist Help From Others
Don't be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help - breastfeeding is hard! Ask your partner to help you get positioned correctly or to just sit with you during the longer nursing sessions. Speak with friends that are also breastfeeding or who have breastfed in the past. Ask your mom about her experiences with nursing. Find someone who can help you get through the first few weeks.
Join a Support Group
Ask around for information on breastfeeding support groups. It can be very helpful to speak with other moms who are going through similar things. If you can not find a support group around you, consider starting one! Also, check out La Leche League for support groups in your area.
Find What Is Comfortable
Try different nursing positions and locations to find what is most comfortable for you and baby. Nursing pillows like the My Brest Friend Original Pillow can help support the baby and allow you to relax a little more. The cradle, cross-cradle, and football hold are popular positions for nursing. You will spend a lot of time nursing, so you want it to be comfortable!
Create a Calm Environment
The first weeks of nursing can be very stressful, so set yourself up for success by not adding any additional pressure. Try to nurse in a location away from pets or a lot of other people. Allow yourself a chance to get used to it with just you and baby (and maybe someone to help maneuver everything).
Keep Baby Awake
Your baby has to be awake to nurse. If you are having trouble keeping him awake try some of these techniques: strip your baby down to a diaper only during nursing sessions, lightly blow on his skin, lightly tickle the bottom of baby's feet, help your baby "fist pump" by holding his fist and gently bending and unbending his elbow.
Express Milk Before Nursing
If you are having trouble with engorgement, heavy letdown, or an incorrect latch, try expressing a little bit of milk before nursing your baby. This will reduce the amount of engorgement and allow your baby to get a better latch on your nipple. You can do this with a pump like the electric double pump from Medela or by manually running your hands down your breast and lightly pinching the area around your areola to stimulate milk flow.
One of the best things you can do for your breastfeeding success is to remain confident in yourself and your ability to provide for your baby. If you become too anxious, your body will have trouble producing milk and your baby will sense your anxiety. Do your best to stay calm and believe in what your body can do! Even if breastfeeding is really hard at the beginning, do not let the difficulties cause you to let go of your nursing dreams! Instead, try to focus on the extra snuggling time and sweet faces your baby makes during nursing sessions.
Photo Credit: The Art of Making a Baby